Steelcase gains new insights into manufacturing operations

By Dave Perkon, Control Design technical editor

In March 2017, Steelcase announced a strategic partnership with Microsoft to explore the future of work, jointly introducing a range of technology-enabled spaces designed to help organizations foster creative thinking and better collaboration. The initiative integrates not only the more obvious tools of the trade for office workers, but also connectivity to Microsoft’s Azure IoT cloud to bring analytics to bear on the behalf of workers and their organizations.

Steelcase may be a household name to many, as it is the largest office furniture manufacturer in the world, providing a variety of technologies and architectural products to support the office-furniture industry. This market-facing digital transformation of furniture and office spaces is not just for its products and customers. Steelcase also has a wide-ranging internal initiative to digitally transform manufacturing operations at the $3 billion company’s 12 manufacturing facilities around the world.

Steve Jones, technical material & process consultant, Steelcase, told attendees of his keynote presentation at Smart Industry 2017 of the company’s digital journey into the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). "Steelcase is going through a digital transformation, creating a data-driven organization," said Jones. "Compared with what was available with older technology, the amount of information available now, along with the tools to get that information, then process, store and access it, is exploding. And it is going to create a great time for manufacturing."

Steelcase is collaborating with Microsoft in a number of ways. Not only is it using new technology to set up a more collaborative and cooperative workspace, it’s bringing this technology to a product. It's a room sensor that monitors a room to record how frequently and how many people use the conference or meeting rooms, so adjustments can be made.

"The Steelcase Workplace Advisor shows how even a meeting room is becoming part of the IIoT to help to understand and quantify the workspace experience," said Jones. "Sensors measure the real estate and analyze how, when and why each space is being used. That is not far from how machines or processes can be monitored to determine which are overperforming and which are underperforming and why."